My Cayuga Trails 50 race report begins a year earlier with last year’s race. Here is the link: https://benrunsonbeer.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/cayuga-trails-50/

Done? Good. Now lets flash-forward to 2015.
Coming out of a mixed Hyner Challenge 50k, I was reinvigorated in training. For many training, especially in road racing, can be many hours of tedious work. But for me, it gave me the opportunity to explore or revisit some exciting places. In the month before Cayuga, I got a chance to knock off parts of the Standing Stone Trail in Central PA and first 20+ miles of the World’s End Ultramarathon course. In doing so, I was able to get in some 60+ mile weeks and elevation gain PRs.
About a month before Cayuga I thought about my current arsenal of trail shoes. Last year I wore a pair of New Balance 910MT which literally fell apart during the race. As far as my other shoes…

Salomon Speedcross – the insoles keep sliding forward when wet
Salomon Fellraisers – too lightly cushioned for an ultra
Brooks Cascadia – too heavy and have poor water management

From my memory, Cayuga has a lot of hard packed trails and stone stairs. Last year many of the elites wore hybrid road/trail shoes, road shoes or Hokas. Hmmm… Hokas…

I have always made fun of Hokas – giant, unwieldy looking beasts that look more appropriate on the feet of Frankenstein rather than a runner. They are an ugly, ugly shoe. Most of my running friends scoff at the mention of Hokas with a few of them claiming they tried it and didn’t like them. However, the more races I go to, the more I’ve been seeing them. Those who do have them, love them. There has been many tales of chronically injured or aging runners rejuvenated with these shoes. Am I ready to drink the Kool-Aid as well?
Then one day during this debate, Running Warehouse dropped the price of some of their Hokas. At $160 to $170, they are far too expensive to experiment but at $60 – $70, they are at a price point that I can afford to test.
I ordered a pair of Stinson ATRs. When they arrived, they are a size too small so I sent them back. Running Warehouse has free two day shipping and free returns. What I didn’t know is that free returns takes more than a week to get back to the warehouse then the shoe sits in the warehouse for processing – that takes several days. Finally the correct size shipped. By the time all this had transpired, it was four days before the race! There was no time to take these shoes out for a long shakeout run. There is a well-known commandment that “thou show not run in new shoes on race day”. You never want to do anything new at a race.

She tried something new on race day.

She tried something new on race day.

Regardless, I decided to take the shoes out for a short four mile run at a nearby state park just to try them out.
As advertised, these shoes have a lot of cushion. On the uphills, I noticed that they had so much cushion that it felt like they were robbing me of some of the energy return when lifting off the ground. On a brighter note, they had a “rocker” design, meaning that they want to tip forward, giving you some added momentum. Many people complain that with such a high stack height, they are prone to rolling your ankle. I found out that indeed they are higher, but not alarmingly so. Besides, I was using these shoes for non-technical, long distances. I would never wear these out on the Mid-State Trail or the Call of the Wilds course.
The most remarkable difference in these shoes is downhill running. You just point down the hill, lean forward, and you go! It’s akin to riding down a hill on a mountain bike with or without suspension. The bike with suspension absorbs the little bumps, making it easier to maneuver at higher speeds. You also don’t have to fight to find a good line down a hill. As long as your legs spin fast enough without braking, you can gain a lot of speed.
I was faced with a dilemma. I was liking the shoes.
I knew that wearing the Hokas was a stupid idea, I decided to wear my Hokas at the onset of the race and having backup shoes in my drop bag at the various aid stations along the route so if/when things go bad, I can switch them out for a fresh pair.

luggage

Ithaca, here we come!

Cayuga would be a mini-vacation for me. I would take both Friday and Monday off from work so I can relax and not feel rushed. The initial plan was to leave about 10am on Friday and have lunch in Williamsport before arriving in Ithaca in the late afternoon. Elmo and Mikalee and their dog Mokee, an Austrailan herding dog, would drive in one car and I’d drive mine. Our departure was about an hour late — something about Elmo finding a large plastic M&M at a yard sale that he had to buy. Anyhow this had set us back an hour and since it was close to lunch, we ate at the Governors Pub in Bellefonte, about an hour closer than Williamsport.
It was a warm hazy day with high clouds. Driving north, the exposed red rocks along the mountainside cuts and lush terrain of Pennsylvania’s northern mountains didn’t pop like last years contrasting blue azure sky. Still, it was a scenic and enjoyable journey. We made a stop at a gas station outside Horseheads, New York for ice cream, just like we did last year. Last year we enjoyed flirting with the ice cream server. This year the line was long, the server was disgruntled, and Mokee decided to pee in Mikalee’s car. So much for starting a tradition.
This year instead of using AirBnB or finding a hotel, I decided to tent camp at Robert Treman State Park, the site of the start of the Cayuga 50. I have always been reluctant to camp before a race, worried about getting a good night sleep. But with an extra evening to get accustomed, the convenience of walking to the start and from the finish, and the comradely of being with friends, I dug out my tent and sleeping bag from storage.

Ithaca Beer Company

Ithaca Beer Company

We got to the park about 5pm. We quickly unpacked and setup our tents and then made it for Ithaca Beer Company for the race briefing. With its sprawling outdoor seating, tents, bocce lane, and Adirondack chairs, it is one of my favorite brewpub restaurants. There, I was greeted by an old friend from home who moved up there about eight years ago and soon after Joel Noal from Hollidaysburg and his entourage, his sister and nephew arrived. The race briefing never happened. Instead the race director, Ian, made his rounds and asked if we had any questions. Looking at a time-lapse footage of the course earlier in the week, I picked up a couple new sections of the course which I I had him confirm. We sat with several other runners including a woman named Racheal from Oregon who ended up being the overall female winner of the race.
As we sat down, had beers and talked about running and the race, a gentleman across and several seats away looked familiar.
“Excuse me! Hello! Umm, excuse me!” I said unbeknownst that I attracted the attention of everybody else seated at the table. “You look familiar. I know you from somewhere”, I inquired.
The stranger swallows his food, not sure what to do or say. He shakes his head not really knowing how to answer my inquiry. “I don’t know.”
I see a logo on his blue shirt and the initials MPF. It all begins to click in.
My name is Ben Nephew,” he uttered quietly.
“Ahhh yes! Ben Nephew. Mountain Peak Fitness. Winner of the Escarpment so many times. You ran this race last year. Great to meet you.” I said all this in a tone and cadence that it sounded like I knew who he was all along. It just made the whole exchange a bit creepy.
“Sorry to have bothered you,” as I began to retract.
“Well, that was embarrassing,” Elmo said to our group.

The Falls. Note the tiny dots at the base. "Them is people!"

The Falls. Note the tiny dots at the base. “Them is people!”

Later than night we ventured down to downtown Ithaca for a late meal at the Ithaca Tap Room where I admit I had the best Cajun pasta I ever had. With Mokee in tow, the Ithaca Tap Room was also dog-friendly outside on the patio.
I didn’t get a goodnight sleep. I forgot to zipper the bottom flap of the tent and my legs were eaten alive my mosquitoes. I recall having a nightmare of a giant mosquito sucking me dry as I slept with the constant buzzing around my face and needles pricking my legs.
In the morning after I woke up and stared at the itchy bumps on my legs, I made some steamed coffee and got ready for the day. The first stop was downtown to get some lunch. Ithaca was celebrating its arts festival and Elmo, Mikalee and I decided to have lunch there. Since I seemed to breaking rules already with my shoes, I decided to have some spicy Indian food for lunch. I hoped that come tomorrow I wasn’t running for the bathrooms. Next stop was to pick up our race packet at Finger Lake Running. This year, unlike last years bonanza including an awesome zippered race shirt, shoulder bag and other cool stuff. This year there was no shirt, no bags — just a buff from Altra Running.
After that we drove down to the Ithaca Farmers Market and then took a rainy drive to Taughannock Falls.
Back at the campsite at around four, I packed some last minute items into my various drop bags. I also got online on my phone and signed up for a membership to USATF. Last year, about a week after the race, Joel informed me that if I was a member of United States of America Track and Field, I would have placed in my age group. Days before this race, I did some research on my fellow runners in my age group. Using their UltraSignUp rankings, I discovered that about in the 70th percentile. Not knowing who is a member of USATF, I figured I had equal chances to place in the top three.

Nothing against Elmo but I was getting a bit “Elmo-ed out” so for dinner I decided to eat with Joel and his crew. We played it safe, eating at some place familiar (i.e. a chain) and had lemonade and water instead of beer. While at the restaurant, a thunderstorm had blown through. Back at the campsite just before dark, and in a light rain, we all retired to our tents instead of hanging out by the fire.

The Western Section of the Course

ACT 1: SOLID FOOTING
When I woke up on race morning, it was still dark and very damp. From inside my tent, I got dressed and accumulated my equipment and drop bags. In the middle of the night, Tyler Synder and his girlfriend Coryn has set up camp across the lane and in the woods. They had a wedding to go to back home and could not leave until late last evening. I got everything organized quicker than Elmo so I walked with Tyler and Coryn to the start. Tyler is very new to trail running and so far his longest race was the half-marathon at the Dirty Kiln Trail Race. But being qquick and young, he should have a good race as long as he doesn’t injure himself. During the walk, about 3/4 of a mile to the start, Joel drives by and drops his key off at the park office. He and his crew slept at one of the cabins at the park but wasn’t staying another night.

Dumbplacus Pyropluggien in it's non-native environment.

Dumbplacus Pyropluggien in it’s non-native environment.

At the starting area called North Shelter, runners began to check-in and gather. The Cayuga Trails 50 race roster is different than most races I go to. The crowd is made up with a mix of elite and/or sponsored athletes that you might have read about in trail running magazines and websites, some of the best of the best came because of the USATF Championship course, and yet some local or first-time ultra distance runners were among the roster. It is a very nice mix of athletes. Because of the elite heavy field and I being a slightly above-average runner, I would be in the middle of the pack today.
The digital clocks winds down. Elmo, Joel, Tyler and I get out senses together, we shake hands wishing each other a good race. Joel places himself near the front of the pack. He is going for it! Elmo, Tyler and I position ourselves around the front of the middle pack.
Above us, a drone flies overhead. “I guess drones can be used for good things as well,” quipped Elmo on the controversial piece of tech. Immediately after that comment, the clock counts down to zero and we were off.
About fifty yards from the start, runners ahead of us quickly divide around a fire hydrant in the middle of the course. Elmo and I laugh, speculating what would have happened if we were taken out at 0.07 miles in a fifty mile race. This year, we ran down a quarter mile grassy glade before making a u-turn back toward the start then darting to the left up an abandoned service road. Last year we immediately when up the road instead of doing the grassy out and back.
Soon we leave the old service road and climb uphill toward the gorge via a grassy doubletrack path. Though this hill seemed easier than last year, my legs let out a whine of “you got to be kidding me!”, like a lethargic pre-teenager. Like all of my runs, it takes several miles before my legs feel like running. I think it must take a long time for all the blood to work themselves into the tree trunks I call legs. This seemed more the case today than on most days. One, because it is a race, I am pushing a little harder, but mostly, I think, it’s the Hokas. The shoes seemed so sluggish on the uphills, it was like my quads were getting tired too soon. Perhaps I was in for a long day. Elmo and Tyler both slowly pulled away.

The staircase at Lucifer Falls

The staircase at Lucifer Falls

Soon we yielded onto Gorge Trail and along the creek. The terrain was a mix of wide singletrack with hard-packed dirt, some mildly technical root sections and in some places broken asphalt from when, I assume, some genius thought it was a good idea to pave the trail back in the 1980’s. Then there are some uphill climbs with steps made from 6×6 inch beams with the ground behind the tie lower than the tie. Each step reminds you to pick your feet up when scaling or descending them.
I passed Red Pine Trail on my right. Last year, because of washed out trails, we hiked up Red Pine Trail out of the gorge to the top. This year we continued on Gorge Trail, running up a stone staircase up along the edge of some spectacular cliffs and around a bend with the magnificent Lucifer Falls cascading down 115 feet of rock face to my left. The picture below is me ascending the staircase.
At the top at mile 3.6 is the first aid station at Old Mill. Being so soon from the start, I and most of the other runners ran past the aid station without refueling. Now at the top of the gorge we zig-zagged around the top of the plateau. I don’t remember this section as being this narrow, dense with vegetation, or as technical with roots and three-inch high stumps trying to claw up and grab my shoes. But soon we curved back toward the other side of the canyon down Rim Trail. Last year, the rising sun broke through the trees, pulsating like a kinescope. This year everything was damp and grey but it didn’t detract from the beauty of this course.
Several runners and I drop down over Rim Trail Steps, a super steep staircase of imminent doom. The guy in front of me lets out a high-pitched laugh much like Space Kook from Scooby-Doo. (I sometimes refer this as the Elmo Snively laugh.)


Continuing on the downhill, I soon realized how fast I was on the downhills. I soon lose the runners I was with and charged ahead without punishing my quads. The section from Rim Trail Steps to the bottom seemed so fast. When I reached the bottom at the Underpass Aid Station, I had gained about five minutes ahead of last year. (Note: I carried a timetable cheatsheet. To get an accurate time, I noted the departure time from each aid station instead of arrival time from last year.)

The Eastern Section of the Course

Creek Crossing near the Underpass

Creek Crossing near the Underpass

After the aid station is the water crossing. A day ago Joel and I estimated that the water would be down from last year — maybe around my calves. I was surprised that once in the water, it went over my knees and up my thigh when I stepped into a hole or channel. Up and out of the stream and on the Finger Lakes Trail, I crossed a field of wildflowers before the steep 550 feet ascent within a mile in The Sweedler Preserve at Lick Brook Falls and its three major falls – 25ft, 47ft, and 93ft, all tucked away in a secluded canyon.
Up on the top of the plateau, I seem to notice more details in the terrain, the small streams, hidden hallows and mini-canyons than last year. The trail was much more soft, rolling and technical with roots and stumps than I remembered. Recent ample rains have made the forest wet and lush.
Finally I came to the section I so dreaded last year. There are three sections where we would pop out of the woods and onto either a powerline or pipeline. Last year, the sun in an unfiltered sky baked us like a french fry under a heating lamp. This year overcast, drizzle and the unseasonable chill, sometimes I was actually cold, made conditions almost perfect for running. I wore an Icebreaker GT short sleeve shirt. The merino cool did a great job keeping me cool when I got hot on the climbs and warming me at the top of the plateau or on the brisk downhills. The trail cut through the pipeline was about as wide as a car but was so bumpy and uneven that the only decent running was a narrow strip of muddy ground in the middle, about five inches wide. I had to run with one foot landing exactly in front of the other to fit into the channel. In between the open sections in the woods, it was a mudfest! The mud had the consistency between toothpaste and peanut butter and took some effort to slog through. Here and there within the mud were the occasional wooden walkway that had become slippery as Teflon.
At around mile 9.5 we began to turn north and downhill toward Buttermilk. It was the first slight downhill before Comfort Road when the first elites approached me coming the other way. This year, there were three elites approaching me instead of the train of runners in the lead pack a year ago.
Now at the top of Buttermilk Gorge, the split between the uphill runners and the downhill runners came immediately at Comfort Road, much was earlier than last years course. This means I would see less of the top runners returning from the bottom of the canyon. We ran around Lake Treman and down the steps to the breast of the dam – an acrophobic’s worse nightmare – the outside of the dam was too steep for me to see the bottom. After a new yet short section of pavement on Upper Buttermilk Park Road, we were back on singletrack to the bottom. I immediately noticed I was running faster, braking less with my quads, and thereby my legs felt better than last year in this section.

Up Buttermilk Creek

Up Buttermilk Creek

At the bottom at Buttermilk Falls, I quickly refueled and sent myself on my way. I looked at my watch and I was now 10 minutes ahead from last year. Climbing up the stairs around the falls, I discovered that my iPhone was dead. I was hoping it lasted longer than it did. I took out a powerstick battery charger and plugged in hoping this would allow me to log my performance until the finish. By the time I looked at my phone, got the charging cables set, plugged in the battery charger and stuffed them in the chest compartment on my pack, I had scaled most of the stairs around the falls. I was definitely moving along faster than last year. Soon enough I was at Pinnacle Rock and crossed West King Road and into Upper Buttermilk Gorge, up Bear Trail on the other side of the stream and Lake Treman until we merged back onto the trail we came across on the plateau.
Invigorated since the race seemed to be going much better than last year, I churned through the mud and eat up the open fields that I dreaded so much last year. During this section, I ran with a runner with a beard, knee brace, about 5 years younger than me, and towed him along behind me. I tend to run faster when I am being “pushed” from behind and he said he prefers to be “pulled” so we made a great pair. We both made a decent, steady pace over the plateau until I broke away once we started on the downhill into Lick Brook.

Obligatory Zombie Photo

Obligatory Zombie Photo

At the bottom, I had caught up to a few runners, one of which that I didn’t know at the time, was the leading female in my age group. As we ran through the wind flowers, I see a photographer amid the flowers along the trail ahead. I lifted my arms up and snarled, looking like a zombie. I passed the photographer, “Zombie. I like that. Good one,” he said. He might have been factious.
After going through the creek once again I hit the Underpass Aid Station. I kept noticing, much like Hyner, I was being passed at the aid stations as I try to fill my bottles with Tailwind. This time I used baggies instead of the single serve packets. Though it seemed to be quicker than Hyner, I was still slower than others who just grabbed and go. Still, leaving the aid station, I looked at my watch and was thrilled I was 15 minutes ahead of my projected pace.

Next I took on the uphill along Rim Trail to the top of the canyon. I am pretty pleased to be feeling a lot better at this point than last year. It is worth noting that I felt more tired faster in my quads running in the Hokas than in other shoes BUT it also seemed like I “leveled out” at a point instead of progressively getting more tired as I went on. My calves and feet still felt fresh. At the top and through the dense brush and narrow trails, I tried to use all my senses to watch out for any oncoming traffic who already made the turnaround at the halfway point. Among the thicket, the race director appeared out of nowhere as if he jumped out from behind a tree.

"Hey, I'm the RD! Good job. You're running faster now!"

“Hey, I’m the RD! Good job. You’re running faster now!”

“Good job, Ben,” or something like that he said.
Knowing I still had a long way to go, I retorted with a “well, we’ll see.”
Just before the downhill was Old Mill Aid Station. I was now 17 minutes ahead. Next came the 3.6 mile downhill of stone staircases, the occasional root forest, wooden ties and stream-side running down the Gorge Trail. Early in the downhill, Joel approaches me and passes in the other direction. He looked strong.
Getting closer to the end, the course turns away from the canyon, over a small lip and down a grassy trail before an old service road and toward the finish. Out of the woods, instead of the darting directly toward the finish, the course went the opposite way from the start and up the main park road before making a lazy u-turn onto a grassy right-of-way. I was not happy about making this out-and-back when I was so close to the finish when I popped out of the woods at the service road. I prayed that they would not include this section for the finish later in the day.
Nearing the end of that grassy corridor amid the weeds, I saw Elmo approach. I began to serpentine down the path toward him. I think it was the first time ever that Elmo glared at me as he tried to figure out what in the world I was going snaking toward him. As I passed, I wondered if Elmo was having a good race. In fact, I was surprised since I assumed that he would have been further along and that I would have seen him much earlier.
As I entered the aid station, I see Mikalee and Coryn with Tyler to my left to the side of the course. The race officials made you run past the aid station until you passed the clock before you can turn back to the aid station. Mile 25. First I used the bathroom (urine was a good color, I wasn’t dehydrated) and then I refilled my bottles and went to retrieve my drop bags for more Tailwind and some snacks I wanted for the race. As I looked through my bag, Mikalee came over to talk.
“How you doing?” she asked.
“Good. I think I’m doing pretty well,” I said making a self assessment and comparing how I felt compared to last year. “I feel pretty good.”
“You missed Elmo,” she said. “He said he is doing good.”
“Good. I just saw him not too far – about 150 yards from here.”
“Tyler is okay. But he had a low point from mile 18 to here.”
“I think everyone is at a low point,” interjected the woman – the leading female in my age group – who I ran with at the bottom of Lick Brook. I didn’t see her beside me until she commented as she was also rummaging through her drop bag.

Joel on the return trip near Lucifer Falls

Joel on the return trip near Lucifer Falls

ACT II: THE DECLINE
At the aid station, I barely thought about what had happened in the past 25 miles except that I was very pleased with my day so far. I wanted to continue on the steady pace I had set for myself. I noticed that I was looking around bit more, taking everything in as much as possible. I felt that I could relax yet still make progress and make slight gains on my pace from last year. I left the aid station feeling pretty good about myself. I left at about 25 to 30 minutes ahead of last year.
315575_301160883227445_1707206166_nUp I went on Gorge Trail to the top of the plateau. At the top at the Old Mill Aid Station, I leaned over the aid station table and pointed at a bowl. “Yay! I sees yinz got pierogies! I’m from Western Pee-aye and we love pierogies,” I said in probably the worst Pittsburgh accent ever. “Yinz got pickles too!” I said.
“Ha ha – thanks guy!” said a volunteer in a nervous laugh.
Next up was the downhill to Underpass Aid Station. About three-quarters of the way to the Underpass (about the 50k mark), I started to get dizzy. It was also getting hard for me to concentrate on the downhill. What was happening to me?!
Then after grabbing my water bottle, I realized I had only a couple of sips in the past 80 minutes since leaving mile 25. Usually I drink 20+ ounces in an hour! I made a huge mistake.

"It's Got Me!"

“It’s Got Me!”

I started to down as much Tailwind as possible, hoping I can bounce back. Approaching toward the Underpass at a particularly rooty section of trail, I go over a steep bank and to a basin. My left foot grabbed a stump of a root sticking about five inches along the ground. The root squares up against my large toe and I fall flat on my face in an instant. As I laid face down on the trail, the root was still grabbing my shoe and I start flaying my arms as if I was a beached trout. “It’s got me! It’s got me!” I yelled so the runners behind down would not step on my head as they made the descent. I panicked like the kid from Poltergeist as the tree smashes through the window and grabs him. It felt like an eternity (probably only ten seconds, max) before I could push myself up the hill with my arms and allowing me to dislodge my foot from the root. I got up and continued running but dazed.
I finally reach Underpass. Even though I know that the human body can process a limited amount of calories per hour, I still drank as much Gatorade and ate as much solid food as possible. I also had to go to the bathroom (#2) and I had to wait for the porta-john awhile before I could go in. By the time I left the aid station, I was shocked that I had lost more than 20 minutes off my time! I was now only 5 minutes ahead of my pace from last!
Son of a bitch!!
Its time to get fucking serious!
I crossed the creek and up Lick Brook and its switchbacks as fast as I could using as much strength, smarts and technique as I could muster. At the top, a cold and bitter rain had taken hold that would have chilled me to the bone if I wasn’t running. I pressed on ahead with a determined grind forward. I pushed myself until I reached Buttermilk Falls at mile 38. Leaving the aid station, I was 15 minutes ahead of last year and had gained 10 minutes in the last 13 miles.

Act III: Final Push
Leaving Buttermilk, I had to keep on the gas for the last 13 miles. In retrospect, it wasn’t so much that I ran better or I was pissed off or more determined this year, it is more because I came undone at this point last year. I remember trudging up the hills last year and hating pretty much everything. This year I was surprising myself how the canyon hills now seemed like molehills and I felt good.

Am I going to make it in time? Yes? No? Yes? No...

Am I going to make it in time? Yes? No? Yes? No…

As I reached the top of the plateau, I started to become obsessed about the time. “Will I be faster than last year? How far am I ahead? Can I make 11 hours? Wait, there is no way I can make 11 hours. But maybe I can? This hill climb is longer than I thought. I am not going to make it. Or maybe I can?”
I swear my attitude flip flopped more than a dozen times when I was at the top of the plateau.
Along the pipelines, I again found myself running again with the bearded guy in the knee brace. “Weren’t we running together at this very spot the last time we were here?” I asked.
“Yeah. Sorry I couldn’t keep up on the downhill. You flew down it,” he said.
However, I wondered how he got around me though.
We ran until again as soon as we reached the downhill, I had lost him.
As I got to the bottom, once again I had caught up to the leading female in my age group.

The last time through the creek.

The last time through the creek.

Crossing the creek for the last time, I made my final stop at Underpass Aid Station. I tried to speed through the aid station as fast as possible trying not to let as many people pass me as had been the case the entire day.
At the final major climb up Rim Trail to the top, I knew a felt a whole lot better than I had last year. Yet, my mind flipflopped again and again on whether I can make it under 11 hours. I looked at my watch and figured there was no way. At the top of the Rim Trail Steps, I was convinced I wouldn’t make it. But there was this tiny nagging voice that said it was possible. Across the creek at the top, with a little more than 30 minutes until the 11 hour mark, I thought of the trail ahead. It was 3.6 miles from the last aid station to the finish. Despite running 46 miles, I could make that distance in 30 minutes. It was downhill. Well, no. I recalled that it wasn’t necessarily all downhill and smooth running. There were flat stretches and small climbs intermixed with the overall net downhill. Even though I thought it would be impossible to make it in under 11, I would try my best to get down to the bottom as fast as I can. I decided that I would completely skip the final aid station and go for it.
Running down the Gorge Trail to the finish, I was pessimistic. I wasn’t going to make it. Then when I hit the right turn off the Gorge Trail to the grassy lane, it instantly brightened my mood. The last section took less time than anticipated. Maybe this was doable. But it was going to be close. I began to wonder that maybe we started later than exactly 6:00AM and I had some extra minutes on my side. Or maybe they would do away with that annoying loop down the park road and the grass section – instead it would be a straight shot down to the finish. I got to the abandoned service road and thought this was going to be close. I got to the end of the road, and… fuck me! We still had to do the mini loop back on the park road and down the grassy path. I started to swear profanities out loud that I am sure turned the heads of some of the state park patrons. Even though I continued not to let up the gas, I figured I will be three to four minutes past the 11 hour mark.

Gah! 11 seconds!

Gah! 11 seconds!

I round the U-turn and then down the grassy lane. In the open area toward the finish, the finish gate obscured by trees, I started running wide to the right to take advantage of an asphalt walkway. Then I moved over toward the center of the grass lane and almost dropped my jaw. The clock just flickered from 10:59:57 to 10:59:58. UH NO!
I sprinted in a final push to the finish line at 11:00:11, pointing up to the clock in disbelief. If I was just 11 seconds faster.
Later, back at home, Tim Sheehan, local antagonist and thug from AltoonaPARunners, said “Why? 11 seconds, Ben. Why?!!”
Why indeed…
Nevertheless, I finished 30 minutes ahead from last year, gaining most of it in the last 16 miles despite losing a 30 minute lead at the halfway point. For me, that was the only measure of success that I wanted. Not too long after finishing, the fact that I had a strong finish for the last 33% of the race was enough to put a smile on my face.
Joel, Elmo, Tyler along with their posse were all there. Joel had a great day with 9:09:58, Elmo was satisfied despite having a poor season training and finished in 10:16:19. The most outstanding finish was Tyler who knocked out 10:32″35 for his first 50 miler and ultra.

At the Awards Ceremony

At the Awards Ceremony

I was awarded first male in my age group in the USATF 50-mile Championship.
The post-race was rather low key. Joel and Elmo and their crews opted to make the trip home. I hung out inside North Shelter, slowly eating the post-race burgers and dogs, drinking Ithaca Beer and catching up on emails and Facebook before heading back to the tent. After taking a shower, a steady rain had once again started so I socialize with Coryn and Tyler that evening before going to bed and closing this chapter.